Criticism of consultant’s work in Baltimore County is far from baseless
Since it was my testimony before the Baltimore County Council during a June 25 work session that prompted council deliberation about the proposed Sage Policy Group contract, please allow me to comment further (“Quirk: Criticisms of County Council’s handling of economic consultant contract are baseless,” Aug. 7).
Anirban Basu, chairman and CEOof Sage Policy Group, has served as chairman of the Baltimore County Economic Advisory Council since 2002 and has provided economic analysis and personal income forecasting services for the county’s spending affordability committee since 2010. That’s a long time.
No doubt his ongoing work with these two groups has been very much appreciated. But in the run up to the May council vote on revenue enhancements proposed by new County Executive John Olszewski Jr., in three separate Center Maryland Facebook videos against the proposals, I believe Mr. Basu crossed the line from independent consultant to lobbyist for the development community.
It’s one thing to manage potential conflicts of interest when you provide economic analysis for energy suppliers, law firms, and real estate developers, as well as for Associated Builders and Contractors, the Construction Financial Management Association, Maryland Realtors, and Marcum Construction Industry Group, as is the case with Mr. Basu and Sage Policy Group.
However, by acting as a public advocate against the county’s best efforts to achieve fiscal sustainability as he did, Mr. Basu himself undermined the appearance of objectivity that is necessary for credibility.
I believed it was fair to ask the council members if Mr. Basu — having been economic adviser to the council all these years of declining fiscal sustainability; his consulting company having received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Baltimore County Public Schools contracts (with many county residents finding the Sage Policy Group school enrollment projections flawed and contributory to seriously overcrowded schools); and Sage Policy Group having many clients whose interests may not always align with the county’s — why wouldn’t the county seek a new outside adviser for independent economic analysis?
It is a matter of perception, of honest and open public procurement and of ensuring independence. The goal is to provide the Baltimore County Council the best independent information upon which to make decisions that have far-reaching ramifications affecting county residents for years to come.
Peta N. Richkus, Towson
The writer is former Maryland secretary of General Services and a former commissioner with the Port of Baltimore, Maryland Port Administration.